To enable statements to be made regarding the possible future development of the dual system and its potential, the Öko-Institut has examined the influence of various relevant situational frameworks in three scenarios extending up to the year 2030. These scenarios for the first time offer a foundation that enables the potential of the dual system to be estimated on a sound basis.
In sensitivity analyses, the influence of various foreseeable developments on the dual system is additionally examined, such as increased use of renewable energies. This is because an altered electricity mix will affect the lifecycle assessment of the dual system. Processes that provide electricity thus receive smaller credits when calculating the lifecycle assessment. At the same time, power consumption in those processes that are necessary for treating recyclable fractions from the waste constitutes a less significant factor.
An analysis of the scenarios shows that the nationwide introduction of a joint collection of packaging and non-packaging made of the same materials, and their recovery using the current state of the art, could increase the contribution towards climate protection from the recovery of lightweight packaging by another 74 per cent. This corresponds to 1.4 million additional tons of CO2 equivalents per annum or approximately the quantity of greenhouse gases that would be caused by 385,000 compact class cars in one year. The dual system’s contribution towards climate protection would thus rise to 3.3 million tons of CO2 equivalents per annum. The largest increase in a beneficial contribution is obtained here between Scenarios 1 and 2 and between Scenarios 2 and 3.
With higher recycling targets and an expansion of the quantity collected, the recovery of lightweight packaging, in conjunction with efficient energy recovery from the treatment residues left after material recycling, could even save more than 3.5 million tons of CO2 equivalents a year. If the recycling of paper, cardboard, cartons and glass is additionally factored in, and stable contributions from these fractions towards reducing the environmental impact are postulated, the climate protection contributions up to the year 2030 rise to more than 4.7 million tons of CO2 equivalents per annum.
For the environmental criteria of acidification potential, eutrophication potential, and primary energy requirement, sorting and recovery by the dual system make a definite beneficial contribution towards protecting the natural environment. Over all the environmental criteria involved, Scenario 3 entails the greatest reductions in resource consumption and environmental impact. Purposeful expansion of the dual system would thus go hand in hand with further beneficial ecological effects. Considering that this study’s calculations are based on relatively conservative models, then given purposeful support and an ambitious expansion of the dual system it can be assumed that even greater potential of the existing system can be tapped, e.g. by additional innovations in terms of sorting technology or by even more efficient material treatment.
It also emerges quite clearly that by altering the electricity mix within the framework of the energy transition, the ecological contribution made by material recycling, particularly in comparison with energy recovery, will continue to rise. The waste hierarchy, which rates material recycling more highly than energy recovery, is unequivocally confirmed by this result.
Soil acidification is reduced, the impact attributable to phosphate equivalents, known as terrestrial eutrophication, is substantially reduced, and, in addition, there are savings in terms of fossil fuels such as coal and oil. Recycling is here superior to processes for energy recovery when measured against the totality of all the environmental aspects involved.
Conclusions and recommendations
An analysis of these scenarios enables the dual system’s future to be envisaged, and clearly indicates the major potential it offers. Political decisions play a particularly significant role in determining its further development. On the basis of this study’s results, the following approaches would seem especially promising:
All these steps would contribute towards encouraging material recycling – to the benefit of the natural environment.
The principle of closing cycles and recycling re-usable materials instead of incinerating them is central to the vision of a genuine closed-cycle economy. Its purposeful enhancement should be proactively progressed accordingly. For this purpose, on the European level an ambitious higher-order framework is necessary. Too many recyclables are still being landfilled or incinerated. Additionally, on the German level, further steps will be required for additionally upgrading the proven system and for putting in place the right framework to unlock fresh potential for enhancing climate protection and downsizing the environmental impact involved.